Matt Rorie enjoys dogs. Sometimes he posts pictures of them on Twitter.
Is it possible to be too lazy to play videogames? It sure is, and I’m here to help you find out how.
I like games a lot, but I’m an even bigger fan of sloth. Lassitude. Torpor. Sleeeeeeep. Sure, when I get home I could play a videogame, but that would entail turning on my TV, setting it to be my primary monitor on my PC, turning on my wireless controller, starting up a game, and then rotating that same television somewhere between 30 or even 150 degrees so that it points at the comfiest place to sit or lie down to play. Depending on my mental and physical state when I get home, this is somewhere between the most exasperating thing in the world and the thirteenth labor of Hercules.
I kid, but honestly: I really do like getting home, getting cozy, and not having to futz around too much. In 2014, this led to me spending something like 250 hours playing Spelunky on the Vita on my bed; in 2015, I spent far more time in my apartment reading books on my Kindle than I did playing games. It’s got a backlight! It weighs less than a pound! I can fit at least eight whole books on it! I probably spent more time reading in 2015 than I had in the five years before that. Among the highlights: Alastair Reynolds writes really amazing sci-fi novels, Kim Stanley Robinson produced maybe the most heartbreaking broken sentence in my recent memoryin Aurora, and Infinite Jest is still really great after the fourth reading. Books are good, even when used solely for escapism.
Of course, games still fit right up that alley, and it was undoubtedly a really good year for games. It wasn’t a particularly great year for actually finishing games, though, at least for me. I’m honestly not sure that I reached the real ending of any single game this year. I beat Oryx in Destiny, I guess, but I didn’t get to the end of the single-player missions that followed, let alone any of the strikes or raids. Beyond that, 2015 is a graveyard of half-finished storylines, with a lot of Rocket League thrown in there for good measure.
That might make it sound like I somehow dislike playing games, but that’s not true: I just find that many recent games have stories that extend somewhat further beyond the ability of their gameplay to interest me. I’ll be 50% of the way to beating Xe’phelos, Eater of Galaxies, but 100% done with using the same dumb attacks to fight the millionth Terror Droid that she’s sent out of her hatcheries. I (perhaps somewhat foolishly) demand novelty and inventiveness spread out across a game, not just in the first few hours. I’m not a complicated man: just give me a new gun every half an hour and we’re good.
Anyway, here are the most notable games that I started and didn’t finish in 2015. I’m not saying I’ll never finish these up, mind you. I’m sure some of them will get burned off when I manage to take a vacation that’s longer than five days in a row. But, for whatever reason, they remain on...The Backlog™, coming in 2016 to CBS Television™.
I got around sixty hours into this game when I sat back and realized that I had no clue what was going on. Am I a werewolf? If so, why didn’t I ever change into a wolf? If not, why do all these hunters keep calling me a beast, and how do they know? Who are all these bosses that I’m fighting, and why do they need to die? Why does this lady at the blood clinic keep turning the people I send to her into items? What’s the Hunter’s Dream, and why do I go there when I die?What are these chalice worlds and why do I want to jump into them? Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is there some ultimate evil I’m supposed to be defeating, or…?
I wrote a 3,000-word essay on my baffled response to the game that I ultimately never bothered to finish up and post, mostly because I didn’t want to deal with the inevitable flood of “You have to read the item descriptions because that’s where all the lore is, OBVIOUSLY!” and “Let me link you to my three-hour Youtube video about the meaning of the word ‘paleblood’” responses. Every game community has some fringe elements, but the Souls games especially seem to attract more than their fair share of folk who will pedantically preach at you about precisely how wrong you are when you stream or write about them.
Of more concern was the thought that people would think that my confusion was intended to be negative criticism, and the opposite is true: I really love exploring the world of Bloodborne and trying to suss out its history and the plot that I’m obviously missing. It’s the closest I’ve seen a game get to approximating the feeling of a David Lynch movie, perhaps especially because there are so many references to dreams here. Sometimes games can be baffling because of poor writing or an inconsistent narrative, but Bloodborne’s vagueness seems so deliberate that I’d rather wander around the world and try to make the connections myself than rely on some third party explanation.
So, I’ve restarted the game for the third time (after buying the DLC) and am still having a great time with it. I don’t feel a huge need to power through it; I’d prefer to take my time and just wander here and there, seeing what happens. (It’s a testament to the game’s allure that in my original runthrough I wound up stuck without an obvious means of getting through a locked door and just explored for around ten hours until I found the password.) I was tremendously wary of this game from the outset, as I have always been a die-hard sword-and-shield player in Dark Souls, so it’s surprising that this has probably become my favorite From Software game.
I played more of this game than anything other than maybe World of Warcraft this year, having clocked up 135 hours as of this writing. But I probably played it a bit too much; by the time I got up into the late 30s and 40s of the mission count, I didn’t particularly feel the need to log in every day to polish off a few more side ops. I have a few more critical side-ops to unlock, as well as whatever might pass for the end of the game, but whether I need to do that by listening to a bunch of yellow-labelled cassette tapes or by repeating more side ops, I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to go through with it right now.
Fatigue aside, this is a goddamn great game. Even the warts it has wind up being more interesting and amusing than frustrating to deal with, and the difficulty curve is one of the smoothest little parabolas that you’ll ever have the privilege of coming across. Obviously things start to get a bit easier when you get an unbreakable silencer for your stun gun and Quiet gets her silenced stun sniper rifle, but even so, I never felt like I was all that far from being turned into swiss cheese if I did something wrong. There’s all sorts of things to complain about here, especially the way-messed-up FOB economy stuff that Konami started patching in a couple months after its release, but it’s still a damn fun game to dick around with.
I’ll take some lazy Sunday sometime soon as an excuse to polish this one off, but even having not finished it it still counts as one of my favorite games of the last few years and is easily my favorite Metal Gear game, excepting Metal Gear AC!D 2 which is totally going to get a Vita port any day now if we all hold hands and believe in it strongly enough. Maybe we can start a letter-writing campaign and send the most volatile acids we can find to Konami headquarters? Check back for my change.org petition in a few weeks and we’ll work something out.
I can tell that Fallout 4 is a game that I’m going to spend a heck of a lot of time with, but those hours seem increasingly likely to happen at some point in 2016. It’s a Bethesda game, which by now has a few obvious implications: the technology will be acceptable at best or horrifically broken at worst, the gameplay will be a lot of fun, and the UI is going to be as attractive and elegant as a pig in a tutu trying to perform the forbidden dance (the lambada!).
I don’t mean to disparage the hard work of the UI designers at Bethesda, of course. These are games that are primarily meant to be played on consoles, and there’s a tremendous amount of information that they’re probably legally required to cram into the Pip-Boy interface, no matter how awkward it gets. And believe me, it gets really damn awkward on a controller, let alone on one of these fancy-schmancy keyboards we have nowadays.
The good parts of this game are smothered beneath a layer of UI that is so immensely frustrating to deal with that I have on more than one occasion simply alt-F4ed right out of it and played something else after five minutes of moving around, let alone fighting. Part of that is no doubt due to switching between controller and keyboard in an attempt to find out which one’s better, but here’s a hint: they’re both terrible!
The controller is obviously the better choice to navigate menus, but I find that it greatly hinders my ability to land shots in combat, especially at long range. The keyboard/mouse makes gunfire easier, but the rest of the UI feels like it was barely given a glance before the game shipped. I can hit M to open my map, but hitting that button again does nothing; I have to hit Tab to close the Pip Boy. Do I need to hit Esc to exit this UI interface, or is that going to pop up the main menu options? If I need to confirm an exit from an interface, do I need to hit Tab or Esc or maybe X? I have a lot of screen real estate; is there a reason I can only see five or six inventory items at a time when I’m at a workbench?
I've heard from a couple of PC players that apparently weren’t even aware that the perk menu scrolled when you moved the mouse to the bottom of the screen, because it’s not like they threw a scroll bar on there. I still have no idea how to get my initial suit of power armor to actually hang from its stand in Sanctuary instead of simply abandoning it in front of it. And let’s not even get me started on the weapon favoriting interface, which reuses the D-pad graphic from the controller UI despite it not having any relevance whatsoever for a keyboard player and is all the more confusing for it.
I’m sure there’s a great game somewhere down in here, and I’m happy for everyone who has been having fun with Fallout 4, but I feel like I have to fight through so much UI bullshit to get to the meat of it that I’m better off just waiting for the full mod tools to get released before diving in. And besides, if I wait for a full UI reskin, that will also give the community time to decide which erection mod features the penises with the most believable throbbing motions and vein coloration. These variables are not unimportant to a discriminating gamer like myself.
World of Warcraft is easily in the conversation when we talk about Rorie’s Favorite Games Of All Time, but that doesn’t mean that I meet every expansion with rapturous delight. Cataclysm is still probably the stinkiest expansion to me, but Warlords just didn’t do a huge amount for me after the initial few months, and most of the scuttlebutt around the community would seem to indicate that I’m not alone in that opinion.
The biggest idea here mechanically was the garrison/follower system, where you could log in and send your little buddies out on missions, get them better gear, and eventually start pulling down major gold and epic gear just from clicking on a few buttons. This is one of those areas where Blizzard’s success at making their game compelling also wound up biting them in the ass, unfortunately. Getting a gaggle of followers all purpled out and pulling down gold for you is fun when you have a level 100 character, but when you have six or seven of them, that shit gets tedious real fast. And yes, I know that the system is technically optional, but hey: so’s breathing. This is WoW we’re talking about, and I’m going to do exactly what I need to get the most efficient rewards possible, even if I eventually get to the point where all I’m doing is logging in, cycling through my garrisons, and then logging out without even doing anything “real” in the game. That wasn't all that fun, and I eventually got tired of it and stopped loading it up.
(Note: Breathing might not be optional. I’m not a doctor or anything.)
Anyway, when I say that I didn’t “finish” the game, I just meant that I didn’t bother to get through all of the raids, despite a fairly promising start to my LFR career. (LFR is essentially the same thing as randomly matching players for dungeons, except that it randomly matches 25 players for an extra-easy version of the raids that are available.) Part of that is just getting a bit tired of all those damn orcs and their orc problems and their orc schemes, but part of it is also just one of the weirder sources of anxiety for me in gaming: I only play as a tank, but I kind of hate actually tanking when there are other people around.
To be clear, there’s no real basis for my nerves to act up when it comes to raiding: the LFR raids in Warlords were easier than heroic dungeons even when the expansion first launched, and they no doubt remain so. Once I managed to take a wrong turn out of the entire instance and the other tank managed to survive a boss fight without a problem. (Most boss fights are tuned so that you have to switch tanks at some point due to stacking damage or debuffs.) But I just find myself getting a bit anxious when it comes time to put 24 other people’s time on my back; I need to know that I’m not going to cause a wipe or do something stupid and get yelled at.
Despite watching videos and reading strategy guides for each boss fight, I'm still convinced deep down inside that I'm going to do something terrible and make everyone yell at me. And even when the chances of failure are minimal, there are still people who get mad upset when you stop to discuss a strategy with your co-tank. If I could live my entire life without ever reading the words “GO GO GO” again, it’d be too soon.
I don’t mean to compare this mild anxiousness with the real-deal medical grade variety, only in that a completely unreal expectation of what might happen in a very unlikely set of circumstances (me doing horribly and getting a bunch of people mad at me) holds me back from diving into something that might actually be a lot of fun. But hey, there are a lot of games to play, many of which do not involve any human contact whatsoever. I’ll see you when Legion comes out.
If you had told me at any point this year that an Assassin’s Creed game would wind up being one of my favorite games of the year, I probably would’ve said something like “well, yeah, I guess that’s possible, since I’ve generally liked the series since its inception and a single bad game doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the franchise.” I didn’t play Unity last year after absorbing all the negativity surrounding it, and I never finished Black Flag on account of playing it so much that it almost burned its UI into my plasma television, but I have generally liked this series a whole bunch.
Syndicate might wind up in the top three of my personal ranking of AC games when I get done with it: it’s got engaging leads, some really fun gameplay twists, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous on the PC. Like, seriously: this is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played, and I’m going to take this opportunity to give Ubisoft all the credit in the world for pushing back the PC release a month and getting their port done right, because damn it looks good. (And comes complete with a VRAM usage meter that really needs to become a standard in PC ports, even if it is an approximation.)
I’ve seen my ladyfriend play this game on her PS4 and while it still looks good, it doesn’t look “did it hurt when you fell from heaven because damn girl you are an angel” good like it does on the PC. Metal Gear was pretty stunning earlier in the year, but it’s been awhile since a game really made me stop and look around at the scenery just on aesthetic grounds like Syndicate has. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked down a cobblestone street after a heavy rain in London in the 19th century, but thanks to Syndicate I’m pretty sure I could tell you what it looks like, and maybe even what it smells like if I try hard enough.
Wait...no, that smells horrible. Forget I said that.
Unfortunately that month-long delay also made it difficult to get through a lot of this before the GOTY busy-ness started up, and I’m still only around the 40% completion mark. I dig this game a lot, though, and I’m looking forward to putting some more time into it.
I enjoyed this well enough during my time with it, but the combat never really clicked for me in the early game (especially due to weak weapons that broke really often) and it felt like progress up the skill tree was going to be slow enough to make getting good at it a bit of a slog.
I’m around 12 hours into this, but every time I load it up it feels like I’m clocking in for a shift at the local Witcher factory rather than actually having any fun. I know that this is GOTY for quite a large number of people, and I really wish I could see what they see in it, but this is the third straight Witcher game that I’ve just found myself completely unmoved by. It’s definitely not a bad game, but it’s also one that I have no compelling feelings about.
I got to a point in this where I simply couldn’t figure out which way to go with the tools at my disposal and wound up wandering around long enough to forget which boss I had last beaten to look up something in a walkthrough and I guess I gave up.
I was really looking forward to more Hotline Miami, but the difficulty here felt more punitive than challenging and I gave up on it fairly quickly. It’s not like the first Hotline Miami was a breeze to get through, but there at least there I felt energized by my deaths and eager to give the level I was on another try. The vibe in Wrong Number just felt a bit more audience-unfriendly, and the maps seemed big enough to make deaths that occurred just before the next stairway up to be more frustrating than fun.
I didn’t get much further in this than what we showed in the Quick Look, despite liking what I played quite a bit. At this point I think I’m going to wait for White March Pt. 2 and the removal of the fatigue system and just start the whole shebang over.
I don’t get really scared by “scary” games, aside from the occasional monster closet jump scare. There’s something about the agency afforded to a player via actually being able to control your avatar that short-circuits that part of my brain; having to passively watch a character make all the wrong choices in an actually scary movie feels much more threatening to me. I think I’m around 90 minutes into this and it seems like it deserves more time, but time is short, alas.
I played this on the PS3 for a bunch and am eagerly looking forward to diving into Scholars on the PC; I’ve played for a bit but haven’t gotten very far. It’ll have to wait until after I get done with Bloodborne, though, as it seems exceedingly likely that I would get my controls mixed up if I tried to play both of them concurrently.
I like this a lot, but there are plenty of much better games out there to occupy my time. I really do dig the ability to restart the story and retain your progress in experience and unlocks, though, so I’ll probably try to polish it off at some point.